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‘What’s the best way to alleviate the feeling of tightness when I stretch, and what’s the best way to improve my flexibility?

Does holding stretches everyday help, or are there other ways?

stretch or strengthen-to-improve-flexibility

Listen to our accredited Exercise Physiologist, Eliza’s, response – 

Some more info. – 

Why does strengthening muscles help to improve long-term flexibility?

To compensate for a lack of strength or power, muscles will often become tight or ‘bunched up’ to provide joint stability required for everyday movement and activities.  As such, performing strengthening exercises which target tight muscles or muscle groups can reduce muscle tightness and help increase muscle length over time.

Whilst static stretching, foam rolling and other foams of myofascial release can help to temporarily relieve feelings of tightness, the effects are short-term as the muscle physiology has not changed and will convert back to being tight. To make effective and permanent muscle adaptations that increase flexibility long-term, it is important to incorporate resistance training which strengthens muscles surrounding the joint for which you’d like increased mobility.

For example, if you feel that you lack hip flexibility or feel a sensation of tightness or discomfort during hip movements or stretches, strengthening muscles surrounding the hip joint will improve your hip flexibility long-term and help alleviate the feeling of tightness.

How do eccentric exercises help?

Eccentric training helps not only to increase your range of motion and lengthen your muscles, but also to strengthen your muscle tissue and allow it to create more force at a greater angle, protecting them from injury.

So what is eccentric contraction? Eccentric contraction is a form of muscular contraction whereby the muscle is in a lengthened position whilst under tension.  Examples of eccentric contraction include the downward phase of a bicep curl (when you straighten your arms) and the downward phase of a squat (as you descend into a squat).  Slowing down in these movements promotes eccentric contraction in the muscles.

Eccentric training facilitates increased muscle flexibility via sarcomerogenesis – the process of laying down new muscular structures when stretched beyond their normal limits. It increases the lengths of muscle fibres at the end ranges of motion, resulting in physiological muscle length adaptations which allow extra fibres to grow. This helps improve your muscular flexibility and strength in the long run.

If you do Pilates and Yoga, then you would have already been doing eccentric movements in class.  Many Pilates and Yoga movements focus on lengthening the muscles while under load.  For example, in the roll down part of the ‘roll up’ exercise where we lengthen the torso against gravity as we slowed roll down onto the mat.

What is the purpose of foam rolling?

Foam rolling is thought to help improve flexibility and muscular performance as well as promote recovery and reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).  Used as both a warm up activity and a recovery tactic, the ‘self-massage’ technique is proposed to both prepare muscles for activity and relieve them after exertion.

Research regarding the effectivity of foam rolling is surprisingly mixed, however it is still a widely-used myofascial release technique by physiotherapists, elite athletes and fitness experts.  So whilst scientific evidence is lagging behind the intervention’s popularity, there are some strong theories behind why foam rollers are so widely used.

Trigger points and muscle knots are some contributors to the feeling of muscle tightness or discomfort you may experience.  Foam rolling can help ease out and separate muscle fibres from one another, helping to temporarily alleviate the sensation of tightness.

Regardless of what studies have suggested, if foam rolling helps you to move better, recover quicker or have reduced pain levels, then it might be worth adding to your exercise routine.

Strength Exercises to Improve Your Lower Body Flexibility

Foam Rolling to Alleviate the Feeling of Tightness in Your Lower Body

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